The Essentials of Gardening 2.0 – The Pot – How to tell good terracotta from not-so-good terracotta

Good evening,

I hope all of you had a nice weekend πŸ™‚

Mine was busy, what with the weather playing hide and seek. It seems that the phase of heavy torrential rains was only sandwiched between hard-hitting hot summer on both sides. The sun has become much harsher, and my inability (read: laziness) to water plants twice daily and to move the tender ones out of the harsh sun, has resulted in some unhappy plants. The Cycus is showing yellowing leaves, the leaves of the Cordyline seem burnt as if a lens were used to concentrate the sun’s rays (the way we used to do in school, how many of you have tried this?) and the other plants while healthy, have soil dry as a bone by the end of the day.

Much of the weekend went in repair work – moving and rearranging plants, raking up the soil and multiple waterings to ensure they began to come back on track. It’s as if they’re literally drinking the water! Anyway, I have done what I thought I should have for now, and the effects of the changes will need some time to be visible.

Today, I’m going to start the “Essentials of Gardening 2.0” series, in which I will delve in more detail in some aspects mentioned in this post. The first of the list was the pot, and that is where the new series begins.

If you remember (or see the post again if you don’t), I had mentioned that Terracotta is the best material for plant pots for the Indian subcontinent. The length and intensity of our summers ensures that a material with ample porosity is needed – to ensure proper cooling as well as aeration of the roots. Terracotta has been used for centuries, because of these properties, not just for planting but also for keeping potable water for cooling long before refrigerators and water coolers arrived in India.

So you go to the local potter’s and buy a couple of terracotta pots. But to your chagrin, you soon find it disintegrating slowly in front of your eyes. You see something like this happening:

Layer by layer the pot is dissolving
Layer by layer the pot is dissolving

You are flummoxed, but before you curse me for recommending such flimsy material; read on.

Like every other natural material; terracotta, if not processed properly, begins to disintegrate. It needs to be made from clay that has a certain level of fineness; needs to be baked at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time. Otherwise, the result is coarse and somewhat raw terracotta that doesn’t live long. However, there are ways to tell apart good terracotta from bad terracotta.

First look is often right:

Look at the pot you’re planing to buy. Touch it, feel the surface. Good quality terracotta looks and feels smoother than half baked terracotta. Keep in mind though, that terracotta being handmade will never be absolutely smooth. I am talking in relative terms here. If you find a pot which seems smooth enough, and not overtly coarse, it should be of a good enough quality.

Expensive is usually better:

Good quality terracotta is often, easily enough, higher priced. You may be tempted to buy something larger for lesser, but think of why something is higher priced. Or better still, ask the shopkeeper. I made this mistake when I was buying pots in the beginning, only to repent later. The pictures below will explain what I am saying:

The cheaper and larger pot
The cheaper and larger pot
The smaller but expensive pot
The smaller but expensive pot

Both the pots were bought within a week of each other, about 2 months back. You can see the disintegration of the first one clearly, while the second one, despite going through the same environmental factors and abuse at my hands, looks almost the same as the day I bought it. I went through the same emotions as everyone while buying the pots, and thought why would I be stupid enough to buy the smaller pot for more money when I’m getting a larger pot for lesser. Little did I know, there was good reason. Lesson learnt – When you go buying pots and you’re not an expert who can magically find treasures for peanuts; trust the maker for pricing higher quality goods higher. Or just ask him :-/

Is it Musical?

Good terracotta has a certain sonorous quality to it. Most of us Indians know, that round terracotta pots or matka are used as a musical instrument in Indian classical music for centuries. The ring of a plant pot will not be the same as that of a matka because of the shape; but it will still give off a beautiful sonorous ring when knocked with your knuckles. Do this test. A bad quality pot or a raw pot will give out more of thud (somewhat distantly similar to that of knocking on wood or solid wall), while a well-baked high quality pot will give out more of ring (a sweet sound, though I can’t find any comparison to list here).

Just look at that ughh. if only I hadn't saved Rs. 10 per pot :-P
Just look at that ughh. If only I hadn’t saved Rs. 10 per pot πŸ˜›
As good as new. No fading, no scaling, no algae.
As good as new. No fading, no scaling, no algae πŸ™‚

If you are still unsure about why you should bother; well if you don’t have plants in pots, you shouldn’t πŸ˜› But if you do, and if you have chosen to use terracotta pots, then you must. A good terracotta pot is an investment in the gardening world and can last for years, if not accidentally broken. Otherwise your bid of saving Rs. 10/pot, or your decision to leave it all on the gardener and not get involved will result in something like the pictures above, and have you running to replace them within months.

So until next time then! The next post is going to be special, and on a subject close to my heart. Watch this space for more πŸ™‚

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2 thoughts on “The Essentials of Gardening 2.0 – The Pot – How to tell good terracotta from not-so-good terracotta

  1. You seem to be growing up with your garden and plants. Sharing these experiences just show that. Some search on gardening sites and some hands-on experience would certainly help you learn more about the finer points of growing house plants in pots. I wish you all the luck and best of your gardening…. Krishna

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